The science of biofacturing
CEO Josh Hoffman talks synthetic biology, biofacturing, and what’s next for Zymergen with This Week in Startups podcast host Jason Calacanis.
What does a material world made with biofacturing look like? Here are just a few of the manufactured products that biology is poised to transform.
Earlier this month, CEO Josh Hoffman sat down with Jason Calacanis, the host of the This Week in Startups podcast, to discuss the science of biofacturing, what’s powering the synthetic biology revolution, and what’s next for Zymergen.
“I think the synthetic biology industry is going to reshape materials science, medicine, and agriculture,” Hoffman said.
“We live in a material world,” Hoffman elaborated. “Most of the startups out there are purely digital, and life has definitely changed because of it, but we still exist in a material world. I think you’re going to see huge advances in human interaction with the material world in our lifetimes.”
Hoffman said that Zymergen’s biofacturing platform lets us identify useful molecules in the world and then program the microbes to make them — and not just make them, but “make them at scale and at a cost that works in our economy.” Hoffman believes these kinds of technologies have the potential to create an industrial revolution.
Hoffman pointed to several enabling technologies that are driving this revolution, including fast, low-cost gene sequencing and synthesis, and the development of next-generation gene editing tools. Together with large-scale cloud computing and advances in machine learning, Zymergen’s biofacturers can build and test thousands and thousands of genomic variations to find not only the most promising biobased chemicals and materials, but also the microbes to make them. With each successive target, the platform gets smarter about what gene edits to make.
“The convergence of those technologies has allowed us to be able to build the technology stack that supports our business,” Hoffman said. “I do think we’re going to have a fundamental reinvention of material science and of the things that humans can do with respect to the material world.”
Hoffman said Zymergen’s product pipeline is the easiest way to see what’s possible. In the course of the next few years, he says it will bring to market two more optical films, an insect repellent (its first consumer care product), a nitrogen fixation product, and a number of others not yet disclosed.
Working with biology is hard, but with each new material, Hoffman sees more interest in biofacturing — and a brighter future for all.